Hollywood midday February 5, 2011 —– I can still sing the station I.D. jingle “K – F – W – B channel 98!” – photo by Mark Weber
October 18, 2o18 Jazz @ Noon every Thursday (starts at 12:07 after the satellite news) Host MARK WEBER KUNM Albuquerque, USA 89.9 FM (Mountain Standard Time) also streaming on the web KUNM.org Current time zone offset: UTC*/GMT -6 hours (*Coordinated Universal Time)/Greenwich Mean Time)
Recent mapping of the genome has revealed without a doubt that homo sapiens is not easily pinned down —- We move around a lot, maybe stay put a generation or two, but moving on has been a central characteristic: Always tempted by what could possibly be over there, the other side of those mountains.
Wars shake things up. Reshuffle the deck. A war can show you real fast how tenuous safety and sustenance can be. That’s one reason to move on. But, let’s not forget dreams, and adventure. And seeing what an ocean looks like.
Of the musicians on these next couple radio shows only six of them are native Angelenos —- Dexter Gordon, Hampton Hawes, Art Pepper, Herb Geller, Warne Marsh, Bill Holman —- all the rest migrated to Los Angeles after WWII.
When I was coming up in California (b.1953 – my family came to Southern California with the Dust Bowl migration out of Kansas 1940) all the jazz albums of the 1950s small labels were not available, there was no re-issue programs. So, when I came on the set [an idiom I first heard from Horace Tapscott] …. When I first came on the set, in the 1970s, I had plenty to occupy myself just catching up with jazz history in general. It was the relative inexpense of making CDs that made possible the re-issue of the avalanche of great West Coast jazz that had fell through the cracks and almost disappeared. Hearing this music has brought into question the old hegemony concerning the dominance of East Coast jazz over the West.
One sees the name of Joe Mondragon recurring over and over on these records. He is listed at Tom Lord Jazz Discography with 519 sessions 1945 – 1978 from Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman, Les Brown, Kenton, June Christy, Jimmy Dorsey, BG, Georgie Auld, Billy May, Billie Holiday, Ella, Clifford Brown, Four Freshmen, The Hi-Lo’s, Bing, Hoagy, Buddy Rich, up to his last listing October 1978 w/ singer David Allyn, and just before that with Carmen McRae (May 1976 w/ a big band that includes Bobby Shew, Perk, Bill Green, Dennis Budimer, Gerald Wilson!) —— As well, the nucleus of those we now know as the visionaries of the cool school on the West Coast: Jack Montrose, Mulligan & Chet, Bob Gordon, Russ Freeman, Russ Garcia, Wardell Gray, Bob Hardaway, the Candoli’s, Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Marty Paich, Pete Rugolo, Jack Sheldon, Bud Shank, Coop, Warne, Shorty, Dave Pell, on and on the list is staggering, sure wish we could have talked to him about all this. Joe also played on many movie soundtracks and pop records.
And don’t forget it was Joe and Shelly Manne backing Peggy Lee on “Fever” (1959).
Other working jazz bass players in the Los Angeles of the 50s: Leroy Vinnegar, Red Mitchell, Carson Smith, Howard Rumsey, Max Bennett, Don Bagley, George Morrow (w/ Max & Clifford), Monty Budwig, Curtis Counce (who went out of his way to dis-like Ornette’s music, by the way), Bob WhItlock, Harry Babasin, Ralph Pena, Gary Peacock, Charlie Haden, Jimmy Bond, Buddy Clark, Billy Hadnott, Don Prell, John Simmons, (Mingus left LA for NYC in 1951), David Bryant, Ben Tucker, Hersh Hamel, Red Callender . . . . .
Joe Mondragon was from New Mexico, raised in the Espanola Valley north of Santa Fe. It was service in WWII that landed him in Los Angeles in 1945. There is scant little information about this important player in the 1950s West Coast scene, so, I’m going to gather together as much as I can right here, and hopefully we can grow on it.
Born in southern Colorado 1920 of Hispanic patrimony, even as some biographies list him as Navajo. This could be possible via the 18th & 19th century history of Genizaros, those Native Americans who were indentured and eventually took on their overlord’s name.
But, most people I talked to say that Joe presented as Hispanic.
The name Mondragon goes back to the earliest European settlers in New Mexico, consequently it is a common name here in New Mexico and southern Colorado. It is Basque. Another story that lends itself to the Spanish connection is told by Miles in his autobiography: “How all this came about was that in 1959 I was in Los Angeles and went to see a friend of mine named Joe Mondragon, a great studio bass player, who lived in the San Fernando Valley. Joe was a Spanish Indian from Mexico, a very handsome guy. When I got to his house, he played this recording of “Concierto de Aranjuez” by this Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, and said ‘Miles, listen to this, you can do this!’ So I’m sitting there listening and looking at Joe and I’m saying to myself, Goddamn, these melody lines are strong. I knew right there that I had to record it . . .” (Miles recorded the Concierto Nov. 1959 NYC for the album SKETCHES OF SPAIN) Now, if you look at Ken Vail’s indispensable book MILES’ DIARY (1996) he shows Miles & sextet are in LA at the Jazz Saville in Hollywood the first week of July 1959.
His return to New Mexico could be as early as 1978 (?) Santa Fe saxophonist Arlen Asher expressly remembers playing two gigs with Joe just months before he died (July 1987), says that Joe’s preferred pronunciation was > monDRAGON, emphasizing the “Dragon.” [in New Mexico the name is commonly pronounced > moan – dray – gohn, with long O’s]. Says that he and Joe were connecting in all the right ways and was looking forward to further playing with him (Arlen Asher b. 1929 Arkansas).
Bobby Shew, another Albuquerque > LA > back to Albuquerque resident remembers playing jazz sessions with Joe in LA in the 1970s. “Yes, we played some gigs together before he moved back to NM. A GREAT bass player and hilarious guy!” [Shew email to MW 16aug2o18]
Leonard Feather’s first edition of ENCYCLOPEDIA (1960) Joe is listed as living at 23443 Burbank Blvd, Woodland Hills, out in the San Fernando Valley aka “The Valley” in L.A. parlance.
When he came back he would have been age 60, “He seemed older” says carpenter/contractor/bass player/Thursday jazz listener Billy Bob who studied with Joe and played gigs in the area (weddings, quinceaneras, parties, casuals, clubs) (Bill b.1954, Detroit — came to El Rito, NM, June 1975) participated in jam sessions at Mack Thomas Ranch circa 1980-1984. Other locals who were at these jam sessions: Sharon Shaheen(piano), Lewis Winn(guitar), Mark Clark(drums), Mack (saxophone). Mack Thomas was a novelist from Texas. Bill remembers that at one gig Joe played drums until the drummer showed up, and then switched to piano. Joe normally played drums on many of these gigs so that Bill could play the bass. Joe’s home was in Medanales, a little village north of Espanola on the road to Abiquiu right on the Chama River (close to where the famous 1941 Ansel Adams photo “Moonrise over Hernandez” was shot). I asked Bill if it was an adobe, “Yes, hard by the Chama, just over the bridge, his house was on the left, a humble little adobe.”
Here’s Billy Bob’s story:
“ I first met Joe Mondragon in El Rito at a jam session in a barn at Mack Thomas’ place, in the Spring of 1981. I had been the bass and occasional piano player, but with Joe we had a real bass player who could also play drums. He encouraged my bass playing, and we set up a weekly lesson schedule; in return I built his kitchen cabinets. He and his wife Mary had a modest adobe house in Medanales, right by the Chama river, where they raised Arabian horses. I acquired an upright bass, a student model from Robertson violin shop in Albuquerque. In due time we had a fairly regular Sunday afternoon event at Mack’s barn, attended by a number of Santa Fe musicians (Lewis Winn, Mark Clark, and Sharon Shaheen among them ) and played a few parties, weddings, and small clubs. Joe was a really great and supportive teacher. “ No fishing !” he would yell, when I landed a note a bit off and slid up on the fingerboard to adjust the pitch. We made a pretty good rhythm section; he had me trading fours and hammering off the strings to get things jumping, along with a bit of bow technique. He had stories of the session days in LA , including a romantic liaison with Ella Fitzgerald, and was just a great guy to hang with and learn from.” [email > MW 31oct2o18]
And here’s John Breckow (former jazz host of Smoke Rings/KPFK, and Friday afternoons/KUNM): [ email (3 combined) > MW 31oct2o18]
“Joe Mondragon… maybe the yeast in the west coast jazz bread. First call… Ray Brown… second call…Joe …maybe call him the invisible man as there is so little written about him, but when he heard Brown he said “that’s me!” and he clearly established himself as an inventive and reliable member of any rhythm section and by doing so eclipsed Brown on the sheer number of sessions and the repeat performances from so many notable leaders.
So is it…MON-DRAGON…MON-DRAY-GON…MON-DRAY-GON add the espanish accent on that last GON… i have heard it all ways… i tend to favor the last, but the middle is most often used and the first is the anglo, which i have also heard alot. curious to see where he lived in L.A…..THE VALLEY…first edition of the encyclo of jAZZ (1955) lists him at 7655 White Oak Northridge…Shelly Manne country! second edition lists him at 23443 Burbank Blvd. Woodland Hills… not so far out in the valley as Northridge.
I would try to contact Flip Manne, i bet she knew Joe well, simply based on the amount of work that Joe and Shelly did together and the Manne’s had a ranch in Northridge. She was a horse person, as i recall. Flip is active in the Los Angeles Jazz Society. She is in her 90’s but still kickin’ butt and takin’ names . . . . Looking at those two addresses from Google maps for Joe. Solid upper middle class… and in the 50’s and early 60’s …. maybe a little bit of suburban Xanadu….. you can see why the East coast Jazz mafia looked down on the Westies… normal, comfortable — got to believe there was a bit of jealousy going on there. Not to say that the Long Islanders did not have a bit of that to… just a longer commute…..jb”
Years ago on my radio show whenever I played something with Joe on it I’d get calls from family members up in Espanola. I’ve been hoping to connect with them, again.
Dexter Gordon in Quartet at The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California – December 23, 1976 w/ Dolo Coker (piano), Jimmie Smith (drums), Frank DeLaRosa (bass) —-photo by Mark Weber
Art Pepper & Warne Marsh at Donte’s in quintet formation – January 26, 1977 w/ Monty Budwig (bass), Lou Levy (piano), Nick Ceroli (drums) – photo by Mark Weber
Teddy Edwards Sextet at Watts Towers Jazz Festival – July 5, 1980 w/ Clora Bryant (trumpet), Leroy Vinnegar (bass), Clarence Johnston (drums), Fred Carter (trombone), Teddy (tenor), Art Hillary (piano) —— photo by Mark Weber
Big Joe Turner waiting to go on stage at KLON Blues & Gospel Festival, Long Beach, California – July 20, 1980 —- that’s Pee Wee Crayton’s van —- photo by Mark Weber
Howard Rumsey at his Concerts By The Sea – May 23, 1979 —- We’ll play some selections from his band The Lighthouse All-stars, there exists a dozen or more CDs of this fabulous time in the 1950s at that club on Sunday afternoons —– photo by Mark Weber
There’s a piano trio playing “Out of Nowhere” in the year 2404 during a cocktail party in the opening scene of Star Trek Voyager’s final episode, proving how durable the Old Songbook really is (“Endgame” 2001), which begs the question: At what point does the music change? The idea of development and expansion is inherent in jazz, expanding on an idea, just having fun and improvising on a song, all of this has always been implied in the music from the beginning, freely expressing the human spirit —– but something about that Old Songbook that is so magical — Whether you’re an aesthetic Darwinist who believes jazz progresses via generations of selectivity, or you’re a Platonist who holds an idea of the tradition close and loves early jazz and figures all subsequent developments are degenerate ——- You can’t deny the pinnacle that was Lester Young —- photo of Prez Conference in flight at Donte’s May 27, 1979 – That’s Earl Palmer sitting in for Frankie Capp (drums), Monty Budwig (bass), Bob Efford (baritone), Bob Cooper & Dave Pell (tenors) – photo by Mark Weber
This young lady at LAX saw me with my old cameras shooting & rolling (you have to clear it out of your camera before sticking it into those x-ray machines at the TSA checkpoint) and asked what I was doing, and I told her I had to get the film out of my cameras, and typically everybody is amazed I’m still shooting film, I said Look into the camera and snapped this one – Her name is Omri Randolph, I forgot where she was heading, I was flying back to Albuquerque —- February 7, 2o18 – photo by MW
Peter Kuhn Trio at Open Gate, Glendale, California (Los Angeles) on double bill with my band – February 4, 2o18 – Peter (bass clarinet), Kyle Motl (bass – student of Mark Dresser down in San Diego, and a great bass player in his own right), Nathan Hubbard (drumset) – photo by Mark Weber
There’s clarinet players and then there’s clarinet players —- one of the most demanding of instruments (pick one up sometime and see if you can get a sound out of it, and, if you can, what’s that goose doing inside the clarinet?) ——— Bill Payne’s a mid-70s Buffet R-13 —- February 5, 2o18 – photo by Mark Weber
Two reed players: Bill Payne & David Sherr ———- You know Bill from his work with Connie Crothers, Carol Liebowitz, Eva Lindal, and in my bands, AND we know David from the hundreds of sessions in the studios on both coasts, mostly I remember him from the 1968 Sonny Criss/Horace Tapscott album BIRTH OF THE NEW COOL and also his Art Music Ensemble —- Bill recently contracted David to write a couple string charts for Bill to solo clarinet over (we just need some studio time somewhere, before we can make that happen) —– photo by Mark Weber — February 4, 2o18 Los Angeles (at Open Gate concert in Glendale)
Chris Garcia, of the capacious Garcia consanguinity, who, in and of themselves comprise 10% of the population of the Western Hemisphere, who came over with Hernan Cortes as El Lustrosos those who shine the soldier’s armor, but there was one of renown, Don Christopher el Tamborilero, who also played the drum, and it is he whom Chris’s geneology traces, deep in time, this House of Garcia emerged from the Neolithic hill people of coastal Iberia as keepers of Time and the ancient art of counting, this profound concept of counting and repetition was first thought to have come from merchants, but now there is considerable evidence that it arose with the first musicians, the bird people, who could speak with birds and learned their songs and in their caves overlooking the ocean they kept safe the incantations 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4-5 over & over, a heart pulse conformed to the incoming ocean waves crashing on the beach in the whole nighttime of the world ——— Photo by Mark Weber —– Chris in the drum booth at New Zone Studios, Los Angeles – February 5, 2o18
Chris Garcia in his studio on San Fernando Road near Glendale with Bill Masonheimer(tuba) rehearsing with the Mark Weber – Michael Vlatkovich Sextet —- February 3, 2o18 for concert the next night at Open Gate (curated by Alex Cline) – photo by Mark Weber
Doing the lunch thing with Arlen at Garcia’s Mex joint on Indian School —- I had my usual shredded beef & refried bean burrito w/ rice on the side plus their fabulous melon juice (cantaloupe) nectar of the Gods, and Arlen went avant-garde and had pancakes (singular) and eggs, for lunch? Maybe he just woke up? Saxophonists have their own folkways . . . . photo by Mark Weber – October 24, 2o18 Albuquerque
Lunch with Bobby Shew (that’s Cal Haines extreme right, Bobby’s drummer) —- October 21, 2o18 — Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque – photo by Mark Weber
Carmen Bradford with Caltech Jazz band under the direction of Barb Catlin, Beckman Auditorium, Caltech, Pasadena – February 3, 2o18 – photo by Mark Weber —– Carmen tells great stories about her years (on-going) with the Basie band, I have to get her on the radio show someday soon (she’s Bobby Bradford and Melba Joyce’s daughter)
Harold Land & Blue Mitchell at Donte’s – July 10, 1977 —- photo by Mark Weber
Joe Mondragon on drum kit —— circa 1981 – El Rito, New Mexico —- with Mack Thomas, saxophone; Billy Bob, on bass, hidden behind Mack; Stan Grochowski, guitar; and most possibly Bob Benetta, on piano ————— photo courtesy of Susan Bucklin, THANK YOU Susan this one rocks!
Your Thursday jazz host with 2 trumpet players: GERALD WILSON and Steve Loza – December 4, 2003 —– In the early 70s I was shipping & receiving supervisor at a medical plastics factory and listened every day at noon to Gerald’s talk show on KBCA Los Angeles